Bumper crowd lifts hopes for Harbour Nights
After a slow start, Hamilton’s Harbour Nights has suddenly come to life with twice as many people attending the Wednesday evening event to shop at vendors’ food and product stalls, and with children taking advantage of the activities on Reid Street.
Numbers had been noticeably down for the early weeks of the season.
“It’s had its challenges,” conceded Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Joanne MacPhee.
“We had changed the route this year,” she said. Harbour Nights now includes Reid Street and Queen Street as well as Front Street. Food vendors are on the harbour front, and there are a variety of entertainers performing at different locations instead of the singe big musical show on a raised stage by the flagpole, as has been the case in previous years.
The changes were made to include the retail sector, said Ms MacPhee. “When Harbour Nights was created 21 years ago, it was a retailing incentive, but it’s become a focus on the vendors and less on retail,” she said.
Ms MacPhee said there had been criticism of the arrangements.
“We’ve taken the criticism on board constructively. It’s been trial and error but we believe we have a model that will work for us for the rest of the season,” she said.
“One of the main reasons for changing the route was to help with retail sales. We wanted to promote the shopping centre of the city. We have had great buy-in from retail, especially on Reid Street, but we had been faced with challenges as a result of this new route.
“One issue is that Reid Street has less power supply — the vendors need power, to have music takes power, the lighting in particular takes power. The City of Hamilton have done all they can, but the bottom line is the infrastructure is not there. So we’ve had our technical challenges.
“And we don’t have a ship in port. We realised this would have an impact, but we didn’t realise how big an issue it would be.
Norwegian Breakaway, in Dockyard, is a destination ship. After the passengers have been to the beach, very few people are leaving the ship at all. There are 28 restaurants and bars on board — passengers are booking meals right through their trip when they set sail, so when they get to Bermuda they are not leaving the ship.
Norwegian Breakaway has been disappointing for traffic — traffic generally has been down.”
However, despite these issues, numbers were up significantly on Wednesday night, and Chamber of Commerce staff who were on the scene placed them at twice as many as they have been seeing.
Among the reasons are that the end of the school year has arrived. “School was out a week ago,” said Ms MacPhee. She also pointed to that fact that this week Americans are celebrating Independence Day, a major US public holiday, which has kicked off the summer visitor season.
And the Chamber have amended the Harbour Nights route. “We’ve moved the vendors onto Queen Street, and changed Reid Street into a play zone for youngsters. So we have different rides operating, a choo choo train that goes around, and some of our tattoo and face painting artists are now on Reid Street.
“Our Spider Man ride is a huge draw — that is drawing a lot of traffic!”
For future seasons: “We have a committee to bring Harbour Nights to life. Already we have a lot of good ideas as to how to make next year better, to bring it alive.”